The Value of Doing Nothing



One of my favorite movies is “Office Space,” directed by fellow Texan Mike Judge.  There’s a classic exchange early in the movie between cubicle-dweller Ron Livingston and his mullet-wearing neighbor, played by Dietrich Bader.

They’re discussing what they would do if they had $1 million.  After we get to hear Bader pontificate on his dream (“Two chicks at the same time”) we hear what Livingston would do:

“Nothing …  I would relax, sit on my ass all day …  I would do nothing.”

To which Bader replies “Well you don’t need a million dollars to do nothin’, man.  Take a look at my cousin.  He’s broke, don’t do shit.”


Hard to argue with idiot-savant logic like that.

Of course, later in the movie, when Livingston is hypnotized into such relaxation that he doesn’t consider the consequences of his actions, treats the job the way it deserves, and starts living his life the way he wants to, he has this to say:

“I did nothing … and it was everything I dreamed it could be.”

Though I vaguely internalized Bader’s blue-collar wisdom, I was on Livingston’s side.  In a rat-race kind of world, kicking back and doing nothing held a tantalizing fascination.

Maybe you just always want what you think you can’t have – the old “grass is always greener” malcontent cow syndrome.

I had my consequences covered more than Livingston in the movie, but I did get my time to do nothing.

After my DVB site sold, I felt like I had run the marathon.  All I wanted to do was sit down and do nothing.

And like Livingston said, it was everything I dreamed it could be.

Then it became more.

More than I bargained for, even.

It changed from “grass is always greener” to “be careful what you wish for.”

I started feeling the itch to check my rankings and sales, or to adjust my AdWords or reach out to affiliates.  I logged into my DVB e-mail inbox three times a day, each time remembering that there was nothing more to check, except how long it had been since the last customer ticket I had.

I knew I had a problem when I started reading spam and marketing e-mails.

It turns out we’re not meant to do nothing.  And I’m discovering that I’m not alone in this challenge.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s good problems to have.  But if I can quote Tony Robbins – “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.”

Tim Ferriss devotes a whole chapter of his book “The Four Hour Work-Week” to the subject of “Filling the Void.”  He points out that it is common for high-performers who retire or take a sabbatical to freak out.  After the initial rush and novelty of freedom, there’s a real risk of depression – of a feeling of uselessness; of isolation after having left the social milieu of the workplace.

Having built my business online and worked from home for years, I didn’t have the social isolation to contend with, but the hours and hours of inactivity …  It’s amazing how many hours there are in a day.

And having crossed the finish line, you start to ask yourself – “Now what?”

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